There are just so many objectives to this year that I could probably have a blog for each one, why we want to achieve them and whether we manage it. As in so many areas of life the chances are that the objectives and reasons change along the way anyway and some of the early ideas get lost in the mists of time.
But certainly a side objective of the adventure was to see more of our beautiful country. I love the UK; I love the climate, the culture, the history. I love the diverse people, towns and cities and countryside. I love the regional accents and local phrases and customs. I adore the fact that within just a few hundred miles the scenery changes, the weather changes, the wildlife changes. There is no one particular county that I consider home really, I have roots in Sussex, in North Wales, in Manchester and friends scattered all over the UK. One of the things we quite liked the idea of was living in various parts of the country and seeing where best fitted us this year with a view to deciding where to eventually settle.
On our days off at each host we have tried to get a taste of the areas we are in. Not by visiting the local expensive tourist attractions but by spending time hanging out, chatting to locals, visiting free places of interest, going on walks, sometimes using public transport. I want Dragon and Star to have a really good understanding of our country, the geography of it and be able to hear a place name and have memories attached to it if we’ve been there – to have eaten a cream tea in Devon, paddled in the Chalice water in Glastonbury, seen the Menai bridge in the shadow of Snowdon, stood on the platform at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch station, know that there is a sign on the M62 declaring it the highest point of a motorway in the UK, stood on coasts on the south, east, west and north of our island and crossed off every single possible bird, animal and sea creature they could have seen in their spotter books. I hope this little taster of travelling, of broadening horizons and opening their eyes to what an amazing planet we live in gives them a thirst for wandering which leads them far and wide across the globe, fires their curiosity about their world and gives them confidence to ask questions, look for answers, find out all there is to know about people and places.
So this weekend we have been off exploring. Yesterday we walked into Bangor (city made famous by that Fiddlers Dram song from 1980!) for a good old forage round the charity shops. Bangor has no shortage of them, the massive retail park all along the main road in has made sure the actual city centre is full of charity shops and mobile phone stores. It was about 4 miles in, which meant with walking around all day and the walk back again we must have done a good 10 miles, accounting for our aching feet by the time we got back at about 730pm. We also had aching arms as we made a few purchases which we had to carry back. I got a pair of bib and braces work overalls from the army surplus shop, Ady got a rain coat from there too. Dragon got a new pad and some pens having used up all the pads we left home with – he has been creating stories about pirates, illustrations mostly with a few words and this rapidly filled the 3 sketch pads he brought with us. Star found a DS game she’d been after for a while second hand in a game shop and we bought some replacement storage boxes for our clothes cupboard as the stacking crates we had been using had proved not robust enough for the pressure of being hauled in and out of the cupboard every day and crammed with clothes.
Today we drove Willow across the bridge to the Isle of Anglesey. Ady and I had been before, several times in years gone by but I wanted to show Dragon and Star some of the sights. We started by going right to the tip to the island to visit the RSPB reserve of South Stack Cliffs. We had a bracing walk along the cliffs in the very sunny and warm but blustery and windy weather, stopped to chat to a very enthusiastic and informative ranger in the Ellis tower who pointed out various birds and talked to us about the habitat, why it was so diverse and unique and how important it was to preserve it. Then we walked down the winding steps and joined many other people hanging over the egde with binoculars trained on the thousands of sea birds on the cliff faces. There were guillemots, shearwaters, choughs and the occassional puffin – the real prize to spot! After a few minutes gazing I found three (identifiable by their orange legs and colourful beaks) and then had a little crowd gathered around as I tried to describe where they were so everyone could train their binoculars and spot them too. Ady spotted them and the kids and I wandered further down the cliff path and found a great spot where the rocks parted to create a natural seat. Both the kids then managed to see puffins with the binoculars too so that was a real highlight.
We then drove back to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch and stood on the train station platform to get the classic photo, before driving to a layby overlooking the Menai Bridge, pulling over to take some photos and make a cup of tea in Willow. Dragon was particularly enchanted with this, even more so when he needed a wee and was able to nip back in the van to use the loo and still have his view of the bridge at the same time! We looked at Snowdon in the background and talked about the height of the summit and discussed how many Star’s tall it is!
We drove over the bridge and back – breathing in as it was very tight for Willow – before driving back over the Britannia bridge again.
So, some landmarks, some natural wonders, some wildlife and some celebrated feats of engineering. A great mix of the stuff that humans do well and the stuff we can take no credit for at all. Dragon and Star will definitely remember this corner of North Wales.